Christ Church, Little Rock, AR (Exterior)

Christ Church, Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Christ Church
Location: Little Rock, Arkansas, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 26 May 2013, 10:30am

The building

The church is a Neo-Gothic structure, dedicated on September 28, 1941, replacing two earlier buildings that were both destroyed by fire. It is in the shape of a Latin cross and is a beautiful structure that draws one's eyes up toward heaven. The exterior is Arkansas stone. Inside, there is a long, high nave, with a wooden vaulted ceiling. The interior is bright, with white walls and tall, beautiful stained glass. The choir sit between the nave and the high altar, in English split-stalls, facing each other.

The church

They have all the usual men's and women's groups, and they sponsor an annual retreat. Special mention goes to their taking an active role in the community. Their website states: "Currently Christ Church is undergoing the same revitalization that is taking place in the rest of downtown Little Rock." Weekday services alternate between morning prayer and the eucharist. They have three eucharists each Sunday plus the office of compline. The church is open daily for prayer and meditation.

The neighborhood

Little Rock is the capital of Arkansas and its largest city. Its name derives from a rock formation in the Arkansas River that early travelers used as a landmark. In 1957, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus called out the National Guard and stationed himself in the doorway of Little Rock High School to block the enrollment of nine African-American students after the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs Board of Education that segregation was unconstitutional. President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the National Guard to stand down and sent in federal troops to escort the students into the school. The incident was among those that marked the beginning of the civil rights movement in the United States. The church is located in the heart of downtown Little Rock, at the corner of Scott Street and Capital Avenue, close to the area known as the Market District. The area has seen major redevelopment during the early years of the 21st century.

The cast

The celebrant was the associate rector, the Revd Dr Kate Alexander. The rector, the Revd Scott Walters, preached. Steve Bullock, organist and choirmaster, was in charge of the music.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?

My guess is that there was somewhere between 250 and 300. There was a rump in every pew. Only about 15 of the gentlemen (myself included) wore a coat and tie. One lady wore khaki shorts, leather sandals, and black socks. Yuck!

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I arrived 18 minutes early, so there were very few people around, but a kind lady opened the door for me, handed me a service leaflet, and gave me a warm "Good morning."

Was your pew comfortable?

No. It was a wooden pew, with a hard red cushion that extended the length. The cushion kept moving around, which was more of a nuisance than a help. It would have been more comfortable without the cushion at all.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

When I arrived, there were no more than 20 people in there, so it was silent. As the church filled up, there was the inevitable noise of people moving around, people shuffling in pews, pages rustling, etc. Despite the natural background noise, there was very little chatter, and a peaceful, reverent atmosphere was maintained. Many people were kneeling, praying. The organist played Partita on Nicaea by the contemporary American organist and composer Charles Callahan.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Hymnal 1982 was the only book used. Everything was printed in the service leaflet, so there was no need for the Prayer Book, although it was available in the pews.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ and a choir of what appeared to be about 40 voices.

Did anything distract you?

The acolytes, and many of the choir members, were wearing jeans and tennis shoes, which looked silly poking out from under their black cassocks. A fire truck (or perhaps ambulance?) drove past once or twice, which isn't surprising, since the church is in the heart of downtown Little Rock. Only one cell phone went off, and that was before the service.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

The service wasn't stiff upper-lip, but it certainly wasn't happy-clappy either. It was a dignified Rite II service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – The rector spoke well. I wouldn't say that his sermon was particularly academic in nature, but it had a nice, positive message. I was relieved that the sermon wasn't one of those that uses cheesy analogies to try to explain the Trinity, which happens all too often on Trinity Sunday.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Wisdom is not an individual thing, but a cry to all that live. God is one, but is also a community, and emerges in our exchanges in life's encounters.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

There was a wonderful, healthy diversity in the congregation: diversity in ethnicity, age, orientation, etc. I believe that heaven will be an immensely diverse place, and it was nice to be reminded of this at Christ Church.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

I always wear a coat and tie whenever I go to church, and found myself getting rather hot during the service. Again, I found the acolytes wearing tennis shoes to be very distracting. Someone behind me was chomping on a piece of gum, and at one point made that awful popping noise with it.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

About 15 people sat back down after the final hymn to listen to the postlude. I received a few warm smiles, but no one offered to help me, and no one struck up a conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There may have been after-service coffee; however, there was none advertised in the service-leaflet, and no mention of it in the announcements.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 – The people seemed pleasant enough, but I was a bit disappointed with the music. Only one anthem was sung (this was at the offertory), which was rather simple in nature. The psalm was not set to Anglican chant, but instead to plainsong. If Anglicans don't do Anglican chant, no one is going to do it. I don't want to see this glorious art form die off. I was given to understand that some of the choir members are paid professionals; that being the case, I felt that they could have done more than they did.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes. The service was a good testament to the love of Jesus. Overall it had a very peaceful, and calming effect.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The acolytes in tennis shoes!

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